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Feb 13, 2008

Proponents of elected Senate will keep pushing

Story PictureOne issue that is certainly not dead is the question of an elected Senate. While political expediency may have placed it on the ballot, the array of activists who have long championed the reform are unlikely to let it fade away. Janelle Chanona has an update.

Said Musa, Former Prime Minister, January 7th 2008
“The People’s United Party has made its position very clear, we are in favor of an elected Senate and we would hope to persuade enough people, the majority that this is the way we should go.”

In the months leading up last week’s General Elections an elected senate was a big campaign issue for the People’s United Party. The referendum on the matter also took place on February seventh and the results are open to various interpretations.

A solid sixty one point five percent voted in favour versus only a thirty-six point six against. The problem is that while seventy-five percent of those registered voted for candidates, only forty-six point six percent bothered to vote in the referendum.

Of course when politicians weighed in on the turnout issue, their views reflected party lines.

Vildo Marin, Former Area Rep, Corozal Bay
“Apparently what transpired that the presiding officers were told that unless the people asked for the second ballot that they were not supposed to offer it.”

Pablo Marin, Area Rep, Corozal Bay
“It’s just an issue that they put and we don’t know anything about it, that’s why no one is taking the ballot and the ones that take the ballot, they vote no.”

Henry Gordon, Elected Senate Proponent
“There’s this, I don’t want to say, it’s not a dichotomy but it’s suggesting that somehow the elected senate is a good idea because most people who did vote on it, said yes so if we go with that, the elected senate is a positive idea.”

Elected Senate proponent, Henry Gordon believes the numbers in the elected senate referendum are disappointing because of technical glitches, the politicisation of the issue and a lack of education. And in response, Gordon says educating the electorate will be his way of keeping the discussion alive.

Henry Gordon
“If you take the present Senate, the present numbers from the elections, and you take that using the same division that you have in the senate right now, take the proportion, what you would get is something like six, four and three, which would give you even a better position than what the U.D.P. is proposing. Because the U.D.P. would get six Senators, the Opposition would get four Senators and the other three would be there. But they are then there independently to vote how they see fit.”

“It’s because of the business community, the church and the unions why some of the things that happened last year and since 2005 has been happening. When you get the unions, unions do not vote but they have the membership, when you get them in the senate, give them this power to address issues from that perspective collectively, then that’s important, it’s essential to our democracy, it’s probably even unique to our democracy. But part of our idea is let Belize shine forth, let us come up with something that is different.”

Prime Minister Dean Barrow, January 8th 2008
“An empowered, not an elected Senate, an empowered Senate controlled by the social partners.”

And while the new United Democratic Party administration has already made its intentions clear, Gordon says he and other activists will continue to lobby for an elected senate. Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

The showdown over the issue will likely come soon when the Barrow administration introduces a constitutional amendment to change the composition of the Senate. That debate will likely find the Opposition making common cause with reform activists like Henry Gordon and others, a faction not usually aligned with the P.U.P.

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